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Enginomics in food quality design: the case of shelf-stable fruit-, vegetable- and legume-based foods

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FOODENGINE (Enginomics in food quality design: the case of shelf-stable fruit-, vegetable- and legume-based foods)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Although today’s food chain is complex, it can be considered as being efficient and effective. Nevertheless, it is facing a number of challenges, which includes the increasing demand for food due to the increasing world population; a high degree of food loss and waste; a limited availability of natural resources; climate change; consumer issues related to food safety, health, well-being, convenience and communication; the demand for increased food quality and the changing consumer patterns. It is generally accepted that the inclusion of fruit-, vegetable- and legume (FVL)-based foods in the diet can contribute to the accomplishment of these challenges. These foods seem to have the highest potential to create products with a high nutritional value and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of our diet. The transformation of FVL into processed foods and ingredients by innovative and sustainable strategies is key in creating a more efficient and sustainable food chain and therefore is a major challenge for food professionals in the future. Moreover, the quality of processed food products and ingredients should also be guaranteed in the period after processing. Hence, food quality design must not only consider the impact of processing but should also include storage. Food quality changes during processing or storage, are due to multiple complex reactions. When the aim is to steer such reactions in a desired way, there is a need to understand the type and the rate of the reactions taking place. Using a so-called ‘enginomics’ (engineering & omics) approach can be very useful to study food raw materials, processing, digestion or shelf-life as it integrates novel engineering approaches and fully exploit the potential of the use of various data analysis techniques.

To fulfil all these needs, the food sector urgently needs highly trained co-workers that are aware of new research approaches to transform FVL raw materials or relevant side streams thereof into high-quality food products and/or ingredients. The overall objective of the FOODENGINE network is therefore to provide a pioneering research-based training programme to a new generation of food scientists and technologists introducing an ‘enginomics’ approach for food quality design. Next to focussing on instrumental analyses, sensorial properties and consumer acceptability and preference of the products will be evaluated. In addition, models will be developed to link analytical properties to sensorial properties, consumer acceptability and consumer preference determinants to create new products fulfilling the needs of the consumers. Although FOODENGINE specifically focus on shelf-stable FVL-based ingredients and foods, the skills and new ways of thinking the fellows will acquire are generic and can be extrapolated beyond the specific application area.
All FOODENGINE fellows started with a literature review. This allowed to define the research gaps, formulate their research objectives and set up an experimental plan. In the meantime, all fellows started with their experimental work.

Four fellows are working on the development of multi-functional ingredients for high quality food products. ESR2 is currently optimising the method for carotenoid extraction and analysis from a pumpkin matrix as they can be used as a natural colorant in food products. ESR2 is investigating the potential of pumpkin pomace (a side stream after carotenoid extraction) to be used as a food texturiser. The work of ESR3 is currently focussing on the implementation of methods to characterise the hard-to-cook phenomenon of legumes, with a specific emphasis on polysaccharides and proteins. ESR9 is examining the impact of complete wheat flour replacement by pulse flours on the technological, sensorial and nutritional properties of dry food systems. ESR13 is currently studying the impact of different parameters on carrageenan (a thickening and gelling agent in the food industry) extraction from seaweed in order to develop a milder process.

Five FOODENGINE fellows are focussing on quality design of FVL-based foods. ESR1 is studying the change in volatile profile of sterilised chickpeas during storage. In addition, ESR1 is looking into the potential of chickpea flour to be used as a natural thickener in vegetable-based systems. The influence of physical barriers on the in vitro digestion of macronutrients (i.e. starch and protein) in different pulses is currently being investigated by ESR4. ESR5 is comparing the potential of conventional and spectroscopic methods to characterise the colloidal stability of a plant-based drink. The impact of processing and storage on the colour and flavour retention of strawberry-based products is being studied by ESR11. ESR12 has produced a series of functionalised legume-based ingredients rich in proteins and is currently optimising several methods to evaluate the functionalities of these ingredients (e.g. foaming and emulsion properties).

Three fellows are linking food quality design to sensory properties and consumer acceptance of FVL based products. ESR6 is looking into the flavour changes of different shelf-stable vegetable and legume-based products during storage linking instrumental and sensorial methods. ESR7 is optimising different analytical methods to characterise the physicochemical parameters and sensory attributes of a soup across shelf-life in order to link analytical parameters with consumer acceptance. ESR8 is developing a cross-cultural survey to understand consumer attitudes and behaviour towards pulses. The survey has successfully undergone a pilot trial and will be launched soon.
FOODENGINE aims to train a new generation of scientists to introduce new ways of thinking into the area of FVL-based product and process design. The general idea of ‘enginomics’ can be transferred to a wide range of food products. Consequently, it is highly relevant for the food industry. The research findings and fellows trained in FOODENGINE will effectively strengthen the innovation capacity of the European food (ingredient) industry. FOODENGINE will have an impact on the sustainable development of the European food industry. Based on the scientific approaches that will be developed in FOODENGINE, the currently applied experience-based approach for shelf-life estimation can be replaced by a scientific enginomics-based approach for optimal prediction of best-before-dates, allowing to better manage food losses. In addition, through the focus on transformation of FVL-based raw materials and associated side stream in food ingredients and foods, the project will largely contribute to the development of future food systems with minimal climate impact (sustainable and food waste reduction) and maximal human health benefits. Given the large-turnover character of the industrial FOODENGINE partners and their extensive network, the impact of the developed science-based approaches on the food industry can be estimated high. In addition, the project scope can be linked to important ongoing socio-demographic trends such as increased urbanisation (increased demand for convenience foods) and population growth (need for more sustainable protein sources). Knowledge generated within FOODENGINE will most likely lead to multiple product innovations. Since FOODENGINE focuses on shelf-stable foods, these innovative food products will be able to be exposed to consumer markets worldwide.
Research matrices FOODENGINE